Monday, 25 June 2012

Disappointment at the Rio+20 outcome: Why am I not surprised?

Here we go again: As The Guardian reports, (23rd June, 2012), "civil society groups and scientists were scathing about the outcome. Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo called the summit a failure of epic proportions. 'We didn't get the Future We Want in Rio, because we do not have the leaders we need. The leaders of the most powerful countries supported business as usual, shamefully putting private profit before people and the planet.'"

But is it our leaders who are really at fault? Or is it the thinking of NGOs that remains blind to the economic constraints our politicians are bound by; constraints that prevent them from acting as we would wish? Becuase it surely can't have escaped NGOs that, today, we live in a global economy in which governments no longer have the power to act as NGOs, the public, (and probably politicans themselves) would like. Indeed, NGOs are disappointed - and will continue to be so - until they understand, accept, and deeply 'get', that our so-called leaders are no longer in real control.

The inability of governments to deliver on the Rio+20 goals, the Millennium Development Goals, (or any other worthy goals for that matter) arises because the very things each nation needs for its economy to thrive - jobs and investment - are allocated by forces - global market forces - that move freely across national borders. And that means the only policies governments can implement are those that attract jobs and investment; policies, in other words, that maintain or enhance the nation's international competitiveness and its attractiveness to international investors. In practice that means that any policy likely to upset the markets or to cost business more - such as precisely the policies NGOs are calling for to save the planet - are necessarily excluded from the political scene. It's little wonder, then, that although our leaders hail Rio+20 as "a pathway for a sustainable century" (for what else should they say?!), the document itself lacks detail and ambition. Indeed it lacks detail, ambition and clarity precisely because our political leaders know very well (but can never openly admit) that thier need to keep their national economies internationally competitive stands in direct conflict with the policies needed to deliver on the Rio+20 goals! Our leaders know - even if the global justice movement doesn't - that it is not within their power to deliver.

Adolescent dependency or Adult autonomy?

One does have to wonder, then, why NGOs continue to blame governments when it's pretty clear our governments aren't in control; that in a globalised world, they don't have the power to deliver on our demands. Indeed, it shouldn't be hard for anyone to realise that a global economy can never become just or sustainable if governance and regulation remains only national. Because anything able to move freely across national borders - such as global markets, multi-national corporations and investment - will always have the whip hand over anything that is nationally rooted, such as national governments and ordinary people. Little wonder, then, that even the mighty EU is reeling under the unrelenting power of global bond markets and that the Eurozone economies are being picked off and eaten alive, one-by-one, as we speak; nor that ordinary people - you and I - will ultimately end up paying the price.

Indeed, the collective orientation of NGOs - the 'global justice movement' - is to place itself in a position of adolescent dependency; in the position of childishly 'asking' leaders to act, and then blaming them for not delivering what they manifestly cannot deliver. The movement, if it is ever to find its power, must move instead to a position of adult autonomy; a position from which it is able to take control and call the shots. This doesn't mean we can change the world without our political leaders. But instead of assuming (wrongly) that our leaders are sitting in the cock-pit and can lead us out of our present global crisis, we will have to move to a more adult position where we realise that "when the people lead, the leaders will follow"; where we realise that we have to get into the cock-pit ourselves. Perhaps, then, it's not so much that we don't have the leaders we need, but that we don't have the NGOs that we need; that is, NGOs capable of harnessing the people in a way that's capable of leading the leaders.

But moving to this adult position will not be easy. Because as George Bernard Shaw astutely observed, "Freedom means taking responsibility. That is why most men dread it." NGOs dread it, of course, because it's so much easier to stay stuck in the blame-game; to keep blaming our politicians even though it's clear they've long-since lost the power to deliver. Because all the while we keep blaming "them", we don't have to take responsibility ourselves. So when, one wonders, will our movement finally have the courage to take proper responsibility and move to an adult, autonomous position in which we take control; in which we take responsiblity? Easier said than done, you might say. But to move to such a position, we would need three things:

1. A campaign organised on the basis that its demands would be implemented by all or sufficient nations simultanoeusly. For only simultaneous action by virtually all governments can possibly provide the necessary global coverage to reign in global capital. Moreover, only simultaneous action can avoid each government's fear of moving first.

2. A policy framework designed, not by politicians, but by civil society itself. This range of policies would, moreover, incorporate multiple policies and so allow nations that might lose on one policy to gain on another. For example, if alongside a CO2 reductions agreement, a currency transactions (Tobin) tax were also included, the vast sums raised from the tax could be used to compensate the big losers on the CO2 agreement. This would give high-emitting nations such as the USA or China an incentive to cooperate.

3. A way for citizens to use their votes in a new but extremely powerful, transnational way to drive the politicians of all parties and nations to actually implement the necessary policies.

Sound utopian? Well, unbeknown to many people, an organisation already exists which allows citizens around the world to do exactly that - and it's meeting with increasing success and recognition. It's called the International Simulanteous Policy Organisation; an association of citizens around the world who use their national right to vote in an entirely new way that drives politicians and governments to implement the global policies our world so desperately needs. So, you can stay in the blame-game if you want. But if you're tired of being a victim and find yourself ready to take proper responsibility, you might like to check it out.

John Bunzl, June 2012.